S Jerome spoke at the NUT strike rally in Birmingham today.
Colleagues, it is great to see you out here today. I know that at this time of year we had had to weigh up political support for action against our commitments to our students, especially those with upcoming exams. But we are striking not because we do not care about our students, but because we do. We care passionately about the changes that Michael Gove wants to wreak on our education system that are damaging to teachers and students. We are on strike today not just because we will be facing performance related pay, 60 hour working weeks, smaller pensions with bigger contributions, working until we’re 68, mountains of paperwork and constant observations, but also because we are opposed to a pub quiz curriculum that consigns some of our children to the scrapheap.
Michael Gove seems determined to drag us back to some mythical “traditional” education system stuck in the past and defends a vision for education where some students are rewarded at the expense of the rest. Do we want an education system where the goalposts are continually shifting and some of our students are set up to fail?
The regime of constant assessment in schools is of course not limited to students, as teachers we are also constantly monitored and judged. We are being swamped with data and targets and the introduction of performance related pay will mean that our successes will not be judged by how much students learn, but how good we are meeting school targets. In other industries, performance related pay has been shown to drive up overall workload whilst at the same time driving down pay. The DofE’s own survey data shows that already, primary school teachers are working an average of 60 hour weeks with secondary teachers not far behind at 56 hours a week. Our working hours are already increasing while our take home pay is falling. With the introduction of performance related pay where will this stop?
Incessant testing, the feeling that we are not teaching children as a whole, but just trying to get a set of grades, aggressive, target driven performance management are all combing to drive teachers out of the profession in droves. The Government’s data shows that 40% of teachers leave within their first five years of teaching – hardly a sustainable model for the future. The shadow education minister, Tristram Hunt, has said he will not repeal Gove’s reforms around academies and free schools, and also backs performance related pay.
Working in schools, we do not just feel the effects of Tory changes to education, but also the impact that changes in other public services have on our students and their families. It is an absolute disgrace that there are schools in our city which are having to operate food banks. The Tory cuts are biting so hard that the poorest children are coming to school without eating. There have even been incidents where food has gone missing from school canteens because children are so hungry. Not only this, but over the winter older people and young children are dying needlessly because they live in fuel poverty. The Tories seem to be indifferent to human misery, they are only interested in people who they can make a profit out of. They are determined to continue to smash public services and allow the market to run amok whilst blaming the poor. We should ensure that we link our fight to that of other public sector workers, like the 1,600 Royal Mail workers who are set to lose their jobs.
We need to continue to fight for not just our pay and pensions, but for a different vision of education which allows all children to thrive.